Unsafe Convictions, page 10
She was still in a lather when Linda rang. Her voice was soggy, Rene thought, as if it were drenched in tears.
‘They think he’ll pull through,’ Linda told her. ‘It wasn’t a very bad attack, and he got to hospital fast. It was the shock, you know.’
‘I’m not surprised,’ Rene said. ‘I’ve never heard the like, I really haven’t. You and your Craig must be out of your minds. Where are the little ones?’
‘Craig took them to school, but he’s going for them at dinner-time so they can come and see Dad.’
‘If you want anything, lass, you let me know. I’ll be along later to see Fred.’
‘I’ll tell him.’
‘He’s conscious, then?’
‘Sort of,’ Linda replied. ‘Enough to say he’s going to rip off Smith’s head, and shit down his neck.’
‘He didn’t! Fred doesn’t use language like that.’
‘He does now,’ Linda asserted. ‘I thought I was hearing things myself, at first, till he said it again.’
‘I never! Well, he can get in the queue when he’s better.’ Rene smiled grimly. ‘And by the way, Linda, you don’t have to put up with what that woman wrote about you.’
‘Craig was going to phone our solicitor when we heard about Dad.’
‘Yes, well don’t drag your feet. I got it from a horse’s mouth it’s libel to say a woman’s been raped or molested. So mind that newspaper gets told you know, before they print any more lies about you and Trisha.’
Every community, small or large, has its quota of elderly women, who, dropped by the mainstream of life, can only watch the run of the tides as they themselves drift with the undercurrents. Sheffield, where Gaynor Holbrook’s Tuesday offering about a one-time son of the city was avidly read by many a pair of old eyes, was no exception. Her forays into the realms of investigative journalism went over the heads of some readers, and drew jeers of derision from others, but when Ida Sheridan finished reading the long screeds of small print for the third time, in case her eyes had deceived her twice before, utter amazement was her only reaction.
Leaving the newspaper open at the double-page spread, she stuffed it into a Tesco carrier bag, went to the lobby of her tiny one-bedroomed maisonette, pulled a quilted fawn jacket from its hook, wrapped a plaid scarf around her ears, checked her pocket for keys, purse, and handkerchief, and opened the front door to the first-floor walkway. The wind hit her in the face the way her husband used to do, trying to knock her to the ground, so she bowed her head automatically, chin tucked into her chest. Making her way along concrete scoured almost white by the wind, plastic carrier clutched under her arm, she decided the wind was no less a relentless demon than her husband.
Head down, she struggled past six windows identical to her own, where metal grilles obscured daylight, and condensation glued uniformly dingy net curtains to the glass behind. Some of the grilles were deformed, wickedly sharp edges poking out to tear at clothes and unwary flesh, the windows shattered and covered over with what she always thought looked like sheets of mashed wood shavings. Shaking her head at the badness in the world, taken in with every breath by the children and addicts who wreaked the havoc in their scavenging for anything of worth, she passed six stout doors, some already dented by the violence of steel-capped boots, their little panels of glass also barricaded, then leaned against the frame of the seventh, gloved finger on the doorbell, while the wind went on battering her about the head and body. Feet shuffled towards the door, a small shadow darkened the frosted panel, dead bolts clanked, and when the door opened hot air whooshed into her face.
‘Let me in.’ Squeezing past, Ida headed for the big electric fire, rubbing her hands. ‘It’s cold enough to freeze the what’sits off a brass monkey.’
‘You should’ve stayed indoors, then.’ Closing the door, the other woman drifted towards her like a wisp of smoke.
‘Wanted to show you this, didn’t I?’ Ida pulled the newspaper from its wrapping. ‘You’ll have to do something this time. It’s gone too far. It’s slander.’ The heat began to sear the back of her legs, and she moved. ‘I reckon they owe you enough to keep that fire going day and night for the rest of your natural.’
Susan Dugdale was not, like Craig, habitually decisive, nor was she, like Wendy Lewis, cowed by commitments, for until yesterday, accepting Dugdale’s marriage proposal was the only important decision she had ever had to make. She barely reacted to his suspension from duty, knowing that when Smith was freed they would be caught up in the backlash. She trusted her husband, but trusted more the simple faith that truth would prevail. The revelation of his relationship with Julie Broadbent came like an explosion, destroying all her certainty. Now, with hours of questions and arguments and a sleepless night behind her, she could still only focus on this secret history of her husband’s and the power it wielded over the present. She told him she was going to her parents, to think things through, but while she hurriedly filled the suitcases last used for their Florida holiday, she lied to the children, telling them that Gran was not very well.
Dugdale did not contradict her. As she packed luggage and children into her own car, he shivered on the doorstep, his face as bleak as the moor behind him. ‘The kids’ll miss school,’ he said dully, silently begging God to make her change her mind.
‘They’ll catch up soon enough when I’ve got something sorted.’
‘Sorted?’ A horrible leaden feeling settled in the pit of his stomach. ‘Like what?’
‘What about the neighbours?’ His voice was hoarse with desperation.
‘What about them?’ She couldn’t care less, he thought. ‘Tell them my mother’s ill, not that it’s any business of theirs.’
The children waved as she drove away, but long after the car disappeared from view, Dugdale remained where he was, hoping against hope that she was simply making a gesture, looking down the road until his eyes glazed over for the blue car which was not coming back. Chilled to the marrow, he eventually went indoors, thinking vaguely that perhaps he should tell McKenna the truth before he heard of Susan’s desertion from other mouths.
The living-room of Colin’s flat was airless and over-crowded and, squashed next to Anna Singh on the narrow sofa, the solicitor’s pin-stripe-clad thigh pressing hers, Janet felt extremely uncomfortable. Ellen had her back to the door and her machines rigged up on an uncared-for drop-leaf table, wires and cables snaking over the side and across luridly patterned carpet to the wall sockets, while Jack and Colin Bowden sat on unmatched upright chairs to each side of the electric fire. Two of the fire’s four bars were switched off, but the heat still burned Janet’s cheeks and dried her throat and, as Anna Singh outlined her concerns to Jack in a rather whiny voice, she assessed the room’s cramped spaces, cheap fittings, low ceiling, and poor proportions. She looked through the window, at dingy brick and millstone grit walls, dark slabbed roofs, and in the far distance the rise of endless moor, and thought how miserable were both the colours and proportions of everything in this bleak place. Whenever she saw a meeting of the moors, she searched for the glimmer of sea between the folds, and felt strange, and even anxious, because there was none to be seen.
Jack had begun the interview. ‘I understand you’d worked with Inspector Dugdale on several burglaries and assaults before he specifically asked for you to be assigned to investigating Trisha Smith’s death.’
Colin nodded. ‘Yes, sir.’ Avoiding Anna’s meaningful stare, he added: ‘I felt very honoured to be included in the murder team. I had a high regard for Mr Dugdale. I still have.’
‘How much time did you spend with him? We know you and Sergeant Lewis did some interviews together.’
‘I attended all the interviews with Smith, and I also attended the crime scene and autopsy.’
‘Was information shared between you all on a regular basis?’
‘Yes, sir. And wit
‘Did you have personal contact with Super-intendent Ryman at HQ?’
‘No, sir. Mr Dugdale briefed him regularly.’
‘Was this your first murder investigation?’
‘No, sir. I’d worked on the murder of a barman in Warwick. That got complicated too, when we uncovered a drug connection.’
‘Did you have adequate supervision on that case?’
‘I think so.’
‘Do you feel you were adequately supervised on the Smith case?’
‘Do you have reservations about the investigation?’
‘Inspector Tuttle! Please!’ Anna intervened. ‘Of course Sergeant Bowden has reservations now. A man was wrongly convicted.’
‘I’m sure he understands that I’m not interested in hindsight,’ Jack replied. ‘I want to know what he thought at the time.’
‘I didn’t have reservations at the time, sir,’ Colin replied. ‘And I don’t now, despite what’s happened. In my opinion, on the evidence available to us, to Crown Prosecutions, and a jury, Smith’s conviction was the only possible outcome.’
‘That evidence was entirely circumstantial,’ Jack commented.
‘That isn’t at all unusual,’ Colin countered.
‘Can you elaborate on the enquiries made about Trisha’s adverts in the lonely hearts columns?’
‘There’s not much to say. We worked like beavers, and came up with nothing, because any replies Trisha had went up in flames with her and the house.’
‘Why are you going over old ground?’ Anna demanded. ‘Are you trying to catch out one or other of our clients in conflicting stories?’ Without giving anyone time to respond, she added: ‘Linda Newton gave the police a photograph of her sister, copies of which then went to every newspaper and TV station in Britain, and were taken around every pub, club, hotel, shop and restaurant within a seventy-five-mile radius.’ She glared at Jack. ‘But you already know all this. And if you’ve no idea how to proceed on this particular issue now that Smith’s release has technically reopened the investigation into Trisha Smith’s death, that is not my client’s problem.’
‘Linda Newton may know more than she revealed,’ Jack pointed out.
‘I don’t agree, sir,’ Colin said. ‘She was desperate to have Trisha’s killer found. She wouldn’t have held back.’
‘On the subject of “holding back”,’ Janet began, ‘can we discuss Julie Broadbent?’
‘Must I watch this investigation every step of the way?’ Anna’s voice was tart. ‘My client outranks Constable Evans and, whether or not,’ she said to Jack, ‘she acts under your instructions, my client may object to being questioned by a lower ranking officer.’
‘Then your client may do so,’ Jack said tersely.
‘I don’t care who asks the bloody questions!’ Colin rounded on his solicitor. ‘You’ve got together with Hinchcliffe and that Pawsley woman to bugger things up, haven’t you?’
As a flush discoloured her dusky cheeks, Jack added: ‘Please understand, Miss Singh, that we shall have no hesitation in taking action against anyone who tries to impede or interfere with the investigation.’
‘Please don’t threaten me, Inspector. And it’s “ms”, not “miss”.’ Sulkily, she nodded to Janet. ‘You may continue.’
‘Sergeant Lewis told us she believed Broadbent was holding back,’ Janet said. ‘What was your opinion on the matter?’
‘I never got round to making one,’ he admitted. ‘I was too fascinated by her to bother.’ As Anna looked horror-struck, he continued: ‘So I don’t remember much about the Willows except trying to engineer excuses to go there. Sad to say, Wendy Lewis was always there, as well.’
‘Why did Broadbent have that effect on you?’ asked Jack. ‘D’you think she set out to beguile you?’
‘No, I don’t. I doubt if she’s any idea how she affects people.’ He smiled. ‘And she’s nothing special to look at. She’s not very tall, and quite thin, and she’s got a slightly pointed face, and very pale skin, but there’s something absolutely mesmerising about her. It must be in her eyes. They’re fantastic.’
‘What crass, sentimental drivel!’ exclaimed Anna.
‘It’s the truth,’ Colin insisted. ‘And as far as the interviews at the Willows were concerned, I was only there to make up the numbers. Wendy Lewis didn’t let me get a word in edgewise, because she wanted to show off her superior social-work knowledge. And although we managed to work together quite well,’ he added, ‘I don’t very much like Wendy Lewis. She became extraordinarily condescending once she found out Julie wasn’t qualified, and at times she was even downright spiteful, so if Julie clammed up, I’d say Wendy’s to blame.’
‘I can’t allow this to continue,’ Anna interrupted. ‘You’re deliberately encouraging my client to damaging indiscretions.’
‘Sergeant Bowden has admitted only to noticing that a potential witness is attractive,’ Jack responded. ‘And as he was apparently no more than a bystander at the interviews, his feelings could not interfere with his conduct. In any case, police officers need to be aware of their feelings to prevent their interfering.’
‘Exactly!’ Colin said forcefully. ‘If I was going to let my feelings get the better of me, believe me, I’d have throttled Smith.’
Janet felt the stiffening in the flesh which pressed against her own and, glancing at the now silenced Anna, saw only the overripe mouth and the sweep of hair. Pleased by the solicitor’s vexation, she said to Colin: ‘Were you satisfied that the residents at the Willows had no pertinent information?’
‘I’m not sure, to be honest. They’re not all stupid. And some of them aren’t incapable of pretending to be stupid.’
‘Could we get to the point at issue?’ Anna asked. ‘I thought you wanted to discuss Father Barclay’s alleged letter.’
‘I intend to,’ Janet told her, and received a toss of that deceptively lovely head in response. To Colin, she said: ‘When did you first learn of the existence of that letter?’
‘When we received the appeal papers.’ He ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Before then, Smith was history in our book, and put away where he belonged. Beryl moved heaven and earth to get an appeal, and, when we first heard it was on, we just assumed she’d chucked the right amount of money and influence in the right direction. Then the bomb dropped.’
‘As you know,’ Jack said, ‘it’s been suggested that Inspector Dugdale wilfully suppressed the evidence of Father Barclay’s letter. I must put that allegation to you, and ask if you have any relevant knowledge.’
‘No, I don’t,’ Colin asserted. ‘I’ve only got my instincts to rely on, but I don’t believe Mr Dugdale ever received the letter.’
‘Unfortunately, instincts can mislead,’ Jack pointed out. ‘After all, everyone got it wrong about Smith. Bearing that in mind, you have the opportunity to change or amend any statement, including that last comment. Like other organisations, police close ranks at times of crisis, or when under threat. If you feel unable to be completely frank for fear of breaking rank, this is the time to say.’
‘I’ve nothing to add, sir, and I don’t want to alter anything.’
‘Not even with regard to your infatuation with Julie Broadbent?’
‘No, sir, and it wasn’t an “infatuation”. I just thought she was lovely. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there?’
When first convicted, Piers Stanton Smith, as he insisted on being called, spent three weeks in Salford’s Strangeways Prison awaiting allocation before being transferred, handcuffed and caged, to his new domicile at Longmoor. Imagining Frances Pawsley already rearming herself for their next skirmish, McKenna followed in his tracks.
As the car flashed through a high-sided underpass to join the northbound motorway, he glimpsed a cat lying as if asleep below the wall, and was about to flatten the brake, compelled to attempt rescue, when he realised the dusty-looking animal mus
Julie saw Trisha’s killer again when she took out some of her charges for a mid-morning walk. The blue car which hurtled away from Trisha’s immolation had been traded in within weeks for an anonymous white vehicle, and that, in turn, exchanged for the mulberry-coloured saloon speeding past her and the little crocodile of mental defectives as if they were non-existent. The car was heading towards Dark Moor and, as it disappeared around a bend, she had another heart-stopping thought to keep company with her older terrors. Had she been alone, she wondered, would the car still have raced away? For surely, the advent of the faceless police officers from another country had changed everything.
Thanking God for the unwitting protection of idiots, she herded them down the road towards the little cafe where Muriel Szabo spent her remaining years guarding her till and ruling with a rod of iron the girls who worked there on their way from school to marriage. Her now dead husband, who fled the Hungarian uprising to find himself in Haughton, had been known only by a self-conscious garble because no one ever learned to pronounce his Christian name. And, despite occasionally sharing her bed with him before each of his seven children arrived, when Muriel, in the last weeks of pregnancy, was bellied like a cow in calf, even Julie’s mother, Kathy, was defeated by the tongue-defying medley of consonants, and simply called him ‘the Hungarian’.
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